Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How I Got My Agent


{I was going to save this post for after I announced the book deal details, but since the announcement got bumped a week, and in order to occupy myself so as not to go completely insane, I decided to go ahead and put this up.}

It began with a query letter.

[Okay. Well. Not quite. It really began with the idea for the novel, but I'm not going to share that now. This blog post is already long enough. But soon I'm going to post the story that comes before the query, so check back for that later!]


So back to the query letter.


I sent it on a Monday. 

Actually, I sent lots of them. I’d done the whole 5-letters-a-week thing with my previous novel, and decided to heck with it this time around. I sent a buttload of queries out, kamikaze style, crossed my fingers, shut my eyes, and prepared for the worst. (I used QueryTracker to keep record of all the queries and to assemble my list of agents; if you ever plan on querying, please check this site out. It’s fantastic and the people on there are so encouraging and helpful!)

Fifteen minutes after I sent the first query letter, I had my first response. A REQUEST. Dancing, panicking, euphoria, terror, and telephoning of the relatives ensued. This little routine repeated itself several more times that day and in the days that followed, and by the end of the week, I had ten requests (mostly fulls, one or two partials) and ten rejections. Pretty good odds, but wow. It's incredible how high you can go and how far you can fall, within ten minutes. Request, rejection, request, rejection. Your emotions jerked from one extreme to the other. It was a strange, surreal, high-strung week for me. I was positively giddy. Positively petrified. Imagine if you walked into a room in just your underwear and found ten strangers staring at you. Yeah. I felt like that.


And a little like this guy:


The first agent who’d asked for the book responded the very next day. That fast. I don't know what this guy was on, but he knew what he wanted--or didn't want, in this case. Because he turned it down. Ouch. In his response, he said the story was an "interesting conceit." Small typo (gasp! yes! even agents make typos!) but looking back, I laugh at how I obsessed over it. Did he mean to? Was it some kind of subtle, Freudian slip? Did he actually think I was conceited by sending out a manuscript that was so terrible? Or was it a simple mistake, and he really did think it was an interesting concept? I prepared myself for the worst, certain my inbox would flood with rejection in the days to come. Oh. I was miserable. If you've queried, you know what I mean.


***amendment: I have just been informed by a fellow Twitterer that the agent in the above paragraph actually used "conceit" correctly--apparently it has a whole other meaning I never knew about {something that is conceived in the mind; a thought; idea: "He jotted down the conceits of his idle hours."} WHO KNEW? Well, apparently Jeanne did. So thanks, Jeanne! I learned something new today. Haha, if only I'd known this then, might have saved a few fingernails! :)


The weekend came. Here's a fact for you: if you're a writer, weekends. are. the. pits. The pits. Because no one is in their office and you have to wear rubber gloves just to stop yourself from sawing through your fingernails like a frickin' beaver.

But. In this case, things were different. Because on Saturday--Saturday!--I got an email from Agent 001, asking if she could call me on Monday. YES YES YOU CAN! I responded, in not quite those terms. Guess what I did the rest of the weekend? Yup. Beaver. Nails. Get the picture?

Next Monday. Phone call. THE phone call. Well, actually, kind of and kind of not. I had no idea what to expect. I'd read horror stories about agents who make "the call" only because they loved the book so much they didn't want to reject the reader in writing, so they call and "let them down gently." Whaaaaa!?NO! Why do agents do this? WHY? I was so certain that this would be the nature of my call.

I looked kind of like this:



Thankfully, the agent was not like those other agents, who must have grown up deprived of, I don't know, Care Bears cartoons or Vitamin C or something.



Instead, what happened was this. Agent 001 had an interesting proposition. She loved the book, but wanted some fairly hefty revisions made before she could offer representation. Also, she asked that while I made those revisions, I work exclusively with her. She didn't want to spend hours going over the manuscript and helping me through revisions if I was just going to let some other agent poach the ms out from under her--and very understandably so. I totally understood her position. But that was a hard choice to make, since I still had more fulls out there, and one of those could potentially turn into a straight-out offer of rep. So Agent 001 graciously agreed to give me some time to contact those agents and bring her an answer in a week. I emailed, asking for responses from those with fulls and partials. I got some more passes on the ms; I had another agent say she wanted to see revisions before offering rep. I had two others promise to finish reading and get back with me before I had to give Agent 001 my final answer. I had another agent (let's call her 002) ask if she could call me on Monday. OH PLEASE YES YOU CAN.

Then came the Next Monday (that's two weeks exactly after I sent my first query). I had two back-to-back phone calls, with Agent 001 and Agent 002. 002 was super sweet, loved my book, and made an offer of rep with the condition of revisions. (I'm probably going to write a post soon called "Before I Queried," to explain why so many people wanted revisions, so check back later on that.) 001 still wanted that exclusive revision period before promising to rep.

So.

I had a choice to make. 001 or 002. I had overnight to decide. Oh. How. I. Agonized. Still hadn't heard back from the two agents who promised to let me know, but by this time, they were really too late. Both wonderful agents, but hey. If they couldn't let me know their decisions in time, I figured they couldn't be as excited about the book as the ones who did let me know. So back to my two.



I really loved 002. Her enthusiasm for the book was strong, she was really nice, she had some great ideas for it, came from a really swell, huge, established agency, and had a strong background in YA. I knew a lot of the titles she'd sold and I knew she had a lot of clout in the publishing world, especially in my genre. She was--is--a dream agent.

I also really loved 001. She was lightning fast. She read the book while she was on vacation, emailed me on a Saturday, wanted an exclusive read (though I couldn't give it to her, since other agents already had the book). She was the first to call. She was also really enthusiastic. She gave me a really persuasive "sales pitch" about her agency (small but very respected) and her background. She was a newer agent, very energetic and ambitious with where she wanted to take my novel.

Again, this guy sums it all up pretty accurately:


Also, this word:

QUANDARY

quan·da·ry/ˈkwänd(ə)rē/

Noun:
  1. Perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation: "Jess is in a quandary".
  2. A difficult situation; a practical dilemma.

In the end, I could have chosen either one and done well, I think. There were really no complaints with either. But in the end, I chose Agent 001. Here's why: Both agents wanted revisions made to the book, but 001's were closer to my own vision for the story. Though I could have made Agent 002's revisions and felt good about them, I felt better about 001's. Not that she "got" the story better; more that her idea of what the book is about was more in sync with my original concept. Her agency was a lot smaller, which I liked. I felt I might get a little lost in 002's large, glamorous establishment. 002 had a long list of clients, which spoke to her ability to sell novels--but which also meant she was probably pretty busy. 001 was newer to the field, just building her list of clients, and I felt she'd probably be able to give more attention to my book. Because, let's face it. We authors are greedy. We put our sweat and tears into our stories and we want them to have the best, and, I believe, rightfully so. Most of all, I felt 001 just wanted it more. And that meant a lot to me. In that second phone call, she really put it all on the line. She sold me on her agency, her enthusiasm, her competence, and her pure tenacity. I knew that anyone who could be so persuasive and compelling with me would be the same with publishers.

{Weird side note: The week before I had to decide on an agent, a certain author started following my Twitter feed. I noticed on her bio that she was repped---by Agent 001. At first, I was like wait a minute... that's either a really, really freaky deaky coincidence or this gal somehow knows her agent wants to rep my book. I sent her a message, and it turned out to be a really, really freaky deaky coincidence. Weird. Though... I'd been praying for divine guidance on this decision... so if this little, timely occurrence wasn't a sign from God, I don't know what is. I chatted with her, told her I was talking with her agent about representation, and she gave me a long list of very detailed, very persuasive reasons why I should go with 001. And I took that list to heart.}

So, that was it. I took Agent 001's offer and regretfully declined 002's (and the several full requests I got later that week from agents who had finally gotten to my query).

We went into a month-long period of revisions to the book, and I am so, so glad those changes were made. Agent 001--okay, seriously, I think we all know her name by now--Lucy is truly a whiz, and I wish I could add her on the cover of the book, because the story would definitely not be what it is without her. She took what was truly a first draft and gambled on it--and on me. And I am so thankful and so lucky she did. Agents are amazing, all around. I don't think I could pull off what they do, and I am in a sort of permanent state of admiration for them. I think any author who's cocky enough to say they don't need an agent is frickin' insane. Get an agent, already, especially if you're new and unpublished and don't have a law degree. End of rant. But really. I have double respect for any agent who takes on an author like me, who had a rough little manuscript in dire need of a make-over, simply because they believe in its possibility. I know Lucy gambled on my book, but I feel it was me who reaped the benefits.

So. That's how I got my agent. Got. Huh. Terrible way to say it. I'd rather say, that's how I was  so extraordinarily fortunate to find someone who actually believed in me and the story I had to tell.

And then we went to the publishers. But that's a story for another time. Specifically, AFTER I FINALLY GET TO ANNOUNCE the title, publisher, and release date for my book! Which should happen MONDAY (as long as Publisher's Weekly doesn't decide to move the announcement again!)

*along with the announcement--which coincidentally falls on the day before my 22nd birthday--I'm going to be hosting a triple-prize Amazon gift card birthday+announcement giveaway--so be sure to stop back by and sign up! :-)

Questions or comments? Leave them below and I'd love to respond!



Cheers!
Jess






23 comments:

  1. Awesome! It's so great that you had choices though, and you were able to find someone who really clicks with you :)

    Agent and author dating, lol. Who will be 'the one?' :)

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    1. Haha, yes, I just never thought choices would be so agonizingly hard! :)

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  2. Well, I would indeed like to have an agent, but we don't always have a choice in the matter, because so far, they would not like to have me.

    Working on my second novel now and hoping the queries for that will go better.

    Basically, I queried how you did. Sent a whole bunch out at once. I don't like to do five at a time. I don't feel I learn enough to necessitate that and feel, so far, that it's more of a waste of time.

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    Replies
    1. That's where I was with my first novel. :-( Three months of querying and only one request in all that time. It SUCKED. Like you I had to just let it go and move on to something new, so I know just how you feel. I really hope this one works out for you! Best of luck! :)

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    2. That's such a great story! I love how everyone's journey is so different. Incidentally, I also "went with" a newer agent at a smaller agency and am very happy for it :-)

      Here's my story, if you're interested in swapping tales: http://www.bethanyhudson.com/?p=123

      Take care and best of luck with your debut!

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    3. Thanks for sharing, Bethany! Your story is definitely unique and unusual--but so fascinating! Good luck with Josephine and congratulations! :-)

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  3. Loved the recap. I went through the same emotions. Difference is I'm 30 years older than you, have two boys in college, and I had never written a single thing until I turned 50. I got my agent, and my debut MG action adventure (Bloomsbury Children's Books) comes out March 1st. All that said about me, I am so happy for you. I know what you're feeling. It's so exciting. It's hard to describe to others who haven't been there, done that - but I think you did a great job of it in this post. Cheers.

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    Replies
    1. That's so exciting!! Congrats! Gee, there's so much emotion in just finding an agent, I can't imagine what it's like to be so close to seeing your book in stores! Good luck! :-)

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  4. EEK! The suspense is KILLING ME!!

    Okay, just needed to get that off my chest. Hee. Can't wait to see who the lucky publisher is, Jessica!

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    Replies
    1. thanks, Anita! I can't wait to tell you!! :)

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  5. Wow! Who's awesome? I think it's you!
    Congratulations on everything, Jess! So very cool. What a story! Of course it is very easy for me to read and quite something else to actually live through... Your poor nails! Looking forward to hearing all of the other details.
    Congrats again.

    -Jimmy

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  6. Great story. Any chance of posting the query letter that got you the agent? I've begun the query process for my novel, and would love to see the letter that got you a request fifteen minutes after you sent it out. :)

    Cheers,

    Marc

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    Replies
    1. Unfortunately I can't... It has too many plot spoilers. :-/ But if you haven't already, check out www.agentqueryconnect.com for query feedback and advice! I got so much great feedback on my query there; it was really helpful in preparing to send it out. :0)

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  7. I've been able to get published without an agent. I've tried to get an agent but have only received rejection notices from them. I'm glad it worked out for you.

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  8. Thanks for sharing your journey! I'm glad you found your agent and have found a publisher as well :)

    I only just recently stumbled on your blog after googling 'word counts for YA novels' and found your post on the subject great! So thanks :)

    I really found this post informative as well, especially the tidbit about Query Tracker. I've never heard of it, but its definitely something I'll keep my eye out for in the future.

    Looking forward to hearing about your new novel :)

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  9. I really loved this story too. I had a very similar experience to you so it was weird reading about your story. Ha! But ultimately you have to choose the agent who you connect with and is passionate with your story. I love how my agent takes the time to get back to me and calms all my crazy fears. Sounds like you made the right choice.

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  10. Your story is SO similar to mine. I just had to wait through Christmas break to hear back from agents after I got an offer. My fingernails were nubs. They still haven't really grown back. But I agree about the necessity of an agent - mine is also helping me thru revisions I never would've thought up on my own. I'm a happy, happy writer!

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  11. Hey Jess
    I'm pretty late to the party here, but your story is pretty super spectacularly inspiring (that's your personal story but I'm sure your novel is the same too!!)
    I'm just starting out on my MS and can only dream as being as fortunate as you. Can't wait to read Origin - it's such an awesome concept (rather than conceit from my end)and can't wait to watch you progress and watch your book propelled into mega stardom with the other YA greats! So happy your dreams are coming true
    Sam x

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  12. Jess,

    I am from GA too actually it is not far from Toccoa at all. Have you heard of Hartwell? You are an inspiration to others who want to be writers(me)and I really enjoyed reading this post and it gave me some really helpful information if I ever finish my story. You go girl!
    I am really proud of you even though I haven't met you but you are a fellow Georgian :)
    You went out there and made your dreams happen. I am very happy for you and I can't wait until I get my hands on the book!

    Sincerely,
    Amy
    www.readtomyhearts.blogspot.com
    www.superreadingkids.blogspot.com

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    Replies
    1. Hi Amy! Of course I know where Hartwell is! You're just down the road from me! I'm always so happy to hear of local writers. I wish you luck in all your creative endeavors! Thanks for reading. =)

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